Required Viewing: Musicals for People Who Think They Hate Musicals

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For months, the only Broadway show that’s been making news has been Julie Taymor and Bono’s awesomely bad Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which has made a depressing amount of money despite having injured a number of actors, firing much of its creative staff (including Taymor), and remaining in endless previews. So it’s good to finally see a worthy show usurping some of those headlines. The New York Times has hailed South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s The Book of Mormon as “a newborn, old-fashioned, pleasure-giving musical,” going so far as to call it “heaven on Broadway.”

Although, truth be told, it’s hard to get us excited about even the most critically raved-about Broadway spectacle, we’ve started saving our pennies to buy tickets. From their student film Cannibal! The Musical to Team America: World Police, Parker and Stone have demonstrated that a great musical doesn’t have to be a stuffy bore — and can, in fact, be as weird and profane as its creator dares to make it. In their honor, we’ve rounded up ten film musicals for people who think they hate musicals, all of which would make My Fair Lady blush.

8 Women

French director François Ozon is best known on American shores for erotic thrillers such as 2000’s Under the Sand and 2003’s Swimming Pool. But we’ve always had a soft spot for the sillier, less celebrated film he made between those two. Featuring an all-star cast of French actresses — Catherine Deneuve! Isabelle Huppert! Ludivine Sagnier! — 8 Women is a musical murder mystery in the grand tradition of Clue. During a Christmas gathering, the family’s patriarch is found dead in his bed, and a web of lyrical intrigue unfolds around the titular ladies.

Labyrinth

Okay, so you hate musicals. No worries, because it would be hard to sell even the most die-hard musical fans on the songs of Labyrinth (except, of course, for the immortal “Magic Dance”). What makes this 1986 Jim Henson production a cult classic is the venerable David Bowie’s campy turn as tight-pants-favoring goblin king Jareth. Also noteworthy: Jennifer Connelly in one of her earliest roles and a cast rounded out by lovable Muppet types (Hoggle! Ludo!).

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

John Cameron Mitchell’s directorial debut began as an odd Off-Broadway hit. The midnight-movie staple follows a Soviet-born, glam-rock translady who seeks her rock ‘n’ roll fortune in America — forming a band named after her very own plastic-surgery disaster and engaging in a toxic love affair with the boy she transforms into a star. It’s definitely grittier and raunchier than your average musical fare. And since it’s about a band and centers on performances, Hedwig is just the ticket for those who aren’t into seeing characters randomly burst into song. Even better? The music is actually wonderful.

Rock ‘n’ Roll High School

If you always wished Rodgers and Hammerstein would try rocking a bit harder, then maybe Rock ‘n Roll high school is for you. Famously about, featuring, and scored by the Ramones (with help from everyone from Chuck Berry to Brian Eno to the MC5), the plot is just as flimsy as the plot to any other musical: teenage Ramones fan is desperate to meet the band when they come to town; evil principal will do anything to foil her; enjoyable chaos ensues. But for a certain brand of punk-rock geek, there’s no better not-so-guilty pleasure.

The Nightmare Before Christmas

Tim Burton’s first feature-length foray into stop-motion animation takes place in the unapologetically goth world of Halloween Land and follows a Pumpkin King who becomes obsessed with Christmas — and then sets out to steal Santa Claus’s gig. Danny Elfman’s somewhat repetitive score is more than a little bit reminiscent of Andrew Lloyd Webber in places, but Burton’s ingeniously dark direction and funny script are enough to keep us interested all the way through (which is more than we can say for Phantom of the Opera).

Romance & Cigarettes

In our humble opinion, John Turturro’s wonderfully campy 2006 film never got its due, which split critics and didn’t stick around long in theaters. But folks, while this may not be Academy Awards fare, it is a musical featuring a Susan Sarandon-James Gandolfini-Kate Winslet love triangle that also includes performances by Christopher Walken, Mary-Louise Parker, Amy Sedaris, Mandy Moore, Steve Buscemi, Eddie Izzard, and even the queen of musicals herself, Elaine Stritch. Come for the cast, stay for the wicked comedy.

Cry-Baby

John Waters. Johnny Depp. Fifties rockabilly. A support cast that includes Traci Lords, Iggy Pop, Patty Hearst, Ricki Lake, and Troy Donahue. Any one of these things would be enough to sell us on a movie, but this 1990 rock musical has all of them. While musicals tend to be paragons of middle America-approved good taste, Waters is the poster boy for the exact opposite. And that is exactly who we want to see making a retro-style musical about juvenile delinquents. If you thought Grease was too tame by half, this is the movie for you.

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T

You might think you know Dr. Seuss, but until you’ve seen the one and only feature film he wrote, you don’t. The live-action fantasy riffs on The Wizard of Oz; a boy named Bart, who hates his piano teacher, Dr. Terwilliker, and dreams that the authoritarian instructor has forced him and 499 other boys to slave away at a giant piano. This cult favorite isn’t what you’d call a good movie, but it is a bit of totally surreal fun that’s well worth watching — maybe after you’ve had a few.

Donkey Skin

Best known in America for his lovely 1964 musical The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, director Jacques Demy re-teamed with that film’s star, Catherine Deneuve, for the much stranger 1970 musical Donkey Skin. In the fractured fairy tale, a widowed king is forced by circumstances to remarry in hopes of producing a male heir. The only problem? He swore to his dead wife that he would only wed a woman as beautiful and good as she was — and the only lady who fits the bill is their daughter (Deneuve). Understandably repulsed, the princess stalls for time by presenting him with a string of seemingly impossible tasks to win her hand. As you might imagine, a film about fleeing an incestuous marriage makes for some pretty off-the-wall musical numbers. The clip above doesn’t have English subtitles, but do you really need them when you’ve got Deneuve dressed as a princess dressed as a donkey?

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

This one may be obvious, but how could we leave it out? The stage-to-screen phenomenon that brought us Tim Curry and Susan Sarandon singing in their underwear while Meatloaf raged through on a motorcycle remains a cultural touchstone over 35 years after the movie premiered. The music is wonderful, nerdy sci-fi jokes abound, and if you go to a midnight screening, it’s perfectly acceptable to throw shit at the screen. If you can’t appreciate that, we don’t want to know you.